Deng answers his own questions with huge Game 5 effort


Deng answers his own questions with huge Game 5 effort

After Sunday's Game 4 loss in Philadelphia, Luol Deng pulled me aside and vented. Actually, it was more like him asking rhetorical questions and me hearing him out.

This isn't an uncommon occurrence in sports, where athletes see reporters--especially beat writers, like myself--on a near-daily basis during the season, relationships, both professional and personal are formed, and being that Deng is the longest-tenured Bulls player, I certainly don't think I'm the only member of the media to whom he's shared his off-the-record feelings about a game with, nor is he the only player on the team who has ever voiced his opinions to me and those feelings didn't get published.

Now, I won't share what he told me verbatim, but let's just say he was frustrated about the performance of himself and the team.

Tuesday night, the first-time All-Star rectified the situation, scoring a game-high 24 points--on 10-for-19 shooting, including 4-for-5 from three-point range--along with snatching eight rebounds and decisively winning the small-forward battle with 76ers counterpart Andre Iguodala.

But it wasn't just Deng getting off to a quick offensive start in a game where the first-half scoring was at a high school level or hitting clutch shots, like his improbable three-pointer to beat the shot clock down the stretch, it was the fact that the versatile player, who admittedly describes himself as someone who thrives within the system, went out and seized the moment.

"I came out aggressive from the start of the game. I had good looks, so I kept shooting the ball. I just had good looks with the threes. I knew the shot clock was running down, I got the ball and I had a good look at the rim, so I just let it go," he said afterwards. "I felt like I didnt shoot the ball enough. Tonight, I was more aggressive. Sometimes, having Derrick out, were just playing a little bit differently. When Derrick Rose is in the game, Im less aggressive and tonight, I really wanted to be aggressive from the start. I took more shots than I did the last couple games."

Deng didn't necessarily play out of character, but without Rose and Joakim Noah in the lineup, he acknowledged that he had to make the adjustment to shouldering more of the offensive load, in addition to playing his usual all-around game.

"Great energy, all-around game, got some easy buckets early, good defense, rebounding," praised Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "Theyre a very good defensive team, so sometimes youve got to give their defense credit and if youre being defended well, your responsibility is to help move the ball, help get your teammate open, screen, cut, keep the ball moving, keep your body moving, run the floor, play great defense. He has to do all those things."

Added teammate Carlos Boozer, who also stepped up with a huge second half, though he's picked his offensive pace quite a bit in the absence of Rose and Noah: "Its awesome. He played great tonight, hit so many big shots. One play, the shot clock was running downthree, two, oneand it looked like he shot the ball from the third row. Just a phenomenal game. He played great."

Deng's matchup with Iguodala is a complicated affair, as both are dinged up--Deng with the torn ligament in his left wrist that he's dealt with most of the season, Iguodala with an Achilles' injury--and are expected to be defensive stoppers, as well as go-to players on the offensive end. However, without Rose's brilliance, as well as Noah's underrated playmaking, Deng is arguably saddled with more of a burden now.

"Weve matched up with each other ever since our rookie yearwe came in togetherso its a lot of fun," Iguodala recently observed. "Going into every game, I get pretty ticked when he scores and Im sure its the same way for him when I score, so thats going to be a key matchup, but at the same time, when they do pick-and-rolls, their bigs do a great job of trying to get the ball out of my hands and when he comes off pin downs, slashing, my bigs help me out when I get hit by a pick, so its kind of like a chess match."

On this particular evening, Deng was Bobby Fischer--no relation to Gail of CSN Chicago fame, at least I don't think so--and fell back into the mode at which he's best, jump-starting the Bulls early, blending in and taking care of his non-scoring duties, then picking up the offensive slack when necessary late.

What made this different, however, was that his effort came when the Bulls were on the brink of elimination, he had no reigning league MVP to deflect attention and instead of waiting for opportunities to present themselves, he went out and took them, answering his own question of how he can change the team's fate and making the role of myself or any other reporter as a sounding board moot for the time being.

Report: NBA, NBPA agree to social justice messages for jerseys during restart

Report: NBA, NBPA agree to social justice messages for jerseys during restart

The NBA and NBPA have come to an agreement on social justice-related messages players can display on the backs of their jerseys when the league resumes play in Orlando on July 30, ESPN’s Marc J. Spears reports.

Here is the list of ("suggested") approved terms, according to Spears:

Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can't Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor

Per Spears, players will have the choice to brandish said messages above the number on the backs of their jerseys in place of their names for the first four days of the restart. From there, messages will still be permitted, but with players’ last names included underneath. TBD if more messages are to come.

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The Premier League provides some precedent for this initiative; all players participating in its season restart, which began on June 17, are donning jerseys with “Black Lives Matter” on the back in place of their names.

Meanwhile, prominent NBA players including Kyrie Irving, Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley have voiced concerns that play resuming could distract from the fight against racial injustice. Others contend that the attention the league’s restart will command can be leveraged into advocating for change. 

Ultimately, the league has left that assessment up to players on an individual basis. Commissioner Adam Silver has publicly said the NBA is deliberating on social justice programming for the bubble, and future investment in social justice causes, though no concrete plans have been made public. On June 24, the NBA and NBPA announced in a joint statement that leadership of both sides had met to “further advance the league’s collective response to the social justice issues in our country.”

“I think ultimately we can accomplish a lot (for social justice causes) by playing,” Silver said on a panel with Caron Butler, Magic Johnson and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in June. “But as I said, I know there’s some roiling going on within the Players Association, and I respect the point of view of those who are saying let’s make sure that in returning to basketball, a larger, broader message about social equality, racial issues are not somehow lost.”


Former Bulls Nate Robinson, Eddy Curry to compete in televised 3-on-3 tournament

Former Bulls Nate Robinson, Eddy Curry to compete in televised 3-on-3 tournament

The 2019-20 NBA season is set to resume at Walt Disney World Resort on July 30.

But first, how about an appetizer?

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Per HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy, a litany of former NBA players are getting together to participate in a 3-on-3, pay-per-view basketball tournament called the “5 Tournament,” running from July 19 - 29.

And before you ask: Yes! There will be a Chicago team — nicknamed the “Chicago 5” — present, in addition to contingents from Toronto, New York, Texas, Sacramento and Miami. On the Chicago squad: former Bulls Nate Robinson, Eddy Curry, Hakim Warrick and Eddie Basden. Derrick Byars, who hails from Memphis, Tenn. and appeared in two games for the Spurs in 2012, fills out the roster.

Other participating ex-NBAers of note include Joe Johnson, Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, Ricky Davis, James White and many more.

Not yet clear is the broadcast schedule for the festivities or rules of competition, other than the fact that it will be a six-team, 3-on-3 tournament with rosters comprising five players each. But it will certainly make for interesting television.

Maybe the Bulls play again this offseason in a bubble format for the teams excluded from Orlando. Maybe not. Either way, there will be Chicago basketball this summer.

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